Every day after school in the summer, Carlos Palacios Dominguez brings smiles to the faces of parents and students alike. On Monday afternoon, it was the other way around, as the ice cream vendor's customers had him crying with gratitude.
Palacios Dominguez is just one of thousands of street food vendors across the city who are constantly facing the struggle of working without permits due to the city’s three-decade old cap on the number of vendor permits issued.
Since 1981, New York City has put a cap on the number of vendor permits, with a total of 3,000 issued to food carts and trucks year-round and 1,000 seasonally. As a result many vendors now pay up to $25,000 to rent permits off the black market while many — like in Palacios Dominguez’s case — decide to work without permits.
The Brooklyn resident has a license to work as a food vendor, but has been on the waiting list for a permit for the past nine years. Without a permit, his cart has been removed, and, on May 10, he got a $1,000 ticket.
“The problem is not because of the vendors, the problem is the city,” he said in Spanish. “They take away your cart, it’s your job, how are you going to make [money] to pay for a ticket of $1,000 if they take away your tool to work?”
According to Palacios Dominguez, on that Tuesday he was approached by two city workers while he worked in front of P.S. 130 in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn, where he has been selling ice cream for the past few years. The city workers told him that because he did not have the permit he would have to be issued a ticket and also have his small ice cream cart removed.
This caused students who had been playing in the school’s playground to ask the workers why they were bothering him. The children started to protest and the city workers decided not to confiscate his car. But they gave him a ticket and warned him that the next time his cart would be taken away.
After hearing about this, Karen Rafael — a mother from P.S. 130 whose daughter was one of the kids protesting — started a GoFundMe campaign to help the vendor pay for his ticket.
“He’s just a really, really genuinely nice person,” Rafael said of the vendor. “He has a huge smile, he’s not just there for the money.”
In just 24 hours the campaign surpassed its goal of $1,000 and parents voiced their support for the vendor on the campaign’s page.
“It was just incredible, I just couldn’t believe how many people love him,” Rafael said.
For Wendy Rodriguez, another parent at the school, she knew that she had to donate to the campaign because she believes what he is going through is not fair.
She added that the community loves Palacios Dominguez because he always brings a positive energy to everyone’s day, no matter how hot a day might be or what issues he might be facing.
“By the time you get out of work and you pick up you child, you’re drained,” Rodriguez said. “He’s a reminder that even though you had a bad day, you have to stay positive and be energetic.”
On Monday, parents and students surprised Palacios Dominguez with a check for $1,070 and the vendor was brought to tears. He said that he was not expecting something like this to ever happen.
“You feel good, you feel like the people see you like a neighbor,” he said.
The father of two said he is scheduled to go to court next month to try to appeal his ticket but he said — based on previous experiences — he doesn’t expect the judge to rule in his favor.